Argentina embraced the far right. Javier Milei, 53, won the second round of Argentina’s elections with 56% of the vote against the current economy minister Sergio Massa, who won 44% of the vote. Massa, the economy minister in a country with 142% year-on-year inflation, admitted defeat even before the official results were announced. The result was an unprecedented landslide.
By Rubén Armendáriz
And Argentina is now facing the unknown, on the path already trodden by Donald Trump in the United States and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Chainsaw in hand, he called during the campaign for the “extermination of the political caste”, which he blames for the perpetual economic crisis devastating Argentina (of which he was part).
The far right capitalised on the angry vote against a government that openly reneged on its promises and implemented harsh austerity plans, worsening the economic and social situation. Milei’s will be a mandate with contradictions and many weaknesses. Now begins an uncertain transition for Argentina until the “libertarian” right wing enters the Casa Rosada on 10 December.
Milei, a media candidate, arrived in Argentine politics breaking the mould. The “libertarian liberal” economist managed to break into the hitherto dominant spaces, the Peronist Frente de Todos and the neoliberal space of former president Mauricio Macri, Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change).
With respect to the October general elections, the ultra-right grew by capitalising on the votes that had been harvested by the neoliberal Patricia Bullrich, who, together with former president Mauricio Macri, had expressed her support for the candidates of La Libertad Avanza. Also an important part of the votes obtained by Juan Schiaretti.
For the first time since 1983, a political space that postulates impunity for genocide and denies the 30,000 people who disappeared during the civil-military dictatorship, and promotes dollarisation of the economy, unrestricted trade liberalisation, privatisation, structural reforms, attacks on women’s rights and discrimination against different minorities, has come to power.
This Sunday’s ballot pitted two candidates with opposing ideas against each other. The far-right Javier Milei proposed reducing the state to a minimum and believed that the market alone would solve the problems thanks to the development of trade and exports. Peronist Sergio Massa, the current economy minister, defended a strong state as the engine of the economy and set himself up as the guarantor of those values that Milei promises to destroy, such as education and public health.
The ultra-right-wing La Libertad Avanza does not have a blank cheque: from the outset it will be faced with the contradictions of a government that will take office plagued by institutional weaknesses (such as not having its own majority in the National Congress or not having governors or mayors), will be crossed by various forms of resistance, by the lack of mechanical identity between votes and consensus, by the bets of defeating its plans in the streets and by almost half the country that has voted against it.
Sergio Massa admitted defeat even before the official results were known. “The most important thing to leave Argentines is the message of coexistence, dialogue and peace in the face of so much violence and disqualification, it is the best path we can take,” he added.
“There were two paths, we opted for the security system in the hands of the state, we defended the path of defending education and public health as core values, our SMEs, which is the best way to build prosperity, upward social mobilisation and progress for our nation,” he said.
In the frenetic final week of the campaign, Milei was busy elbowing out his own and his collaborators’ claims of the last two years. “We are not going to privatise health, we are not going to privatise education, we are not going to privatise football, we are not going to allow the unrestricted carrying of weapons”, he recited in an advertising spot. He had also announced the severing of relations with Brazil and China, dollarisation, the market in children and human organs, and his devotion to Margaret Thatcher,
Milei cultivated his popularity by rotating on television sets as an economic commentator. With his vehement and provocative style, he became a prime-time personality, and some eccentric personality traits propelled him to television stardom.
Milei’s candidacy received the support of former neoliberal president Mauricio Macri, who was interviewed by former Colombian president Iván Duque in a series of reports at the Woodrow Wilson Center, where he said that if the La Libertad Avanza candidate becomes president “he will need help” and added that “he does not put democracy in danger” because, although his proposals “sound extreme”, “he will have to negotiate them in Congress”.
Macri also ruled out holding a position in an eventual Milei government, and said that “there are things he proposes that sound extreme, but he will have to negotiate them in Congress because he does not have enough votes to do them on his own. It’s not dangerous. He is not the corporate and mafia system. He is a person who today has come to represent a lot of ordinary citizens who have had enough”.
The old political regime of the rift – polarised for years between Macrismo and Kirchnerism, each with their respective allies – has just received its hardest blow. A new right – to the right of the right – has emerged, ascended and defeated Argentina’s bi-coalitional structure within a few years, and in this election the rejection of the current state of affairs has prevailed over the fear of the unknown.
The failure of the last two governments can be seen in numbers. Since the International Monetary Fund (IMF) returned to Argentina in 2018, poverty has risen dramatically from 27.3% to 40.1% in the latest measurement. IMF policies, implemented first by Macri, then by Alberto Fernández, are a poverty-generating machine.
The wages of all workers have collapsed, with particular severity for the unregistered, who have lost 46.7% of their purchasing power since 2016.
La Libertad Avanza had important allies, some of whom wanted to defeat it now in the ballot but who had already contributed to creating the monster long before. From the big businessmen who promoted it to Peronism that speculated on giving it air to divide the electoral base of the neoliberal Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change).
The right-wing of Peronism and some trade union bureaucracies even contributed to the creation of Javier Milei’s lists and provided him with funding. Later in time, Mauricio Macri found in the libertarian candidate a good instrument to take advantage of in the right-wing internal elections, and joined the wave together with Patricia Bullrich, after his defeat in October.
What will happen next week? No one can know.
Rubén Armendáriz, Argentine journalist and political scientist, associated with the Latin American Centre for Strategic Analysis (CLAE)